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Innovative Practice - Living history

Make the past real by bringing children from two schools together to re-enact the Second World War evacuation

Make the past real by bringing children from two schools together to re-enact the Second World War evacuation

The background

Staff at St Mary's Primary in Bucknell, Shropshire, wanted to find a way to let their pupils experience the past rather than simply reading about it. Another aim was to foster links with other schools - St Mary's is a tiny, rural school of just 42 pupils, and partnerships would help the children to engage with other communities.

The project

Anna Cook, headteacher of St Mary's, and Maggie Morrissey, a teacher at Oliver Goldsmith Primary in Peckham, south London, were inspired to bring the two schools together for a living history project about the Second World War evacuation. A group of 63 pupils, aged 7-9, were "evacuated" for two days from Peckham to Shropshire, where they experienced a rural environment.

A webcast was set up between the schools so the children could get to know each other prior to the trip. For the children at St Mary's, this was an eye-opening experience, as they were exposed to a community so different from their small one. They also dressed in 1940s costume to greet their visitors when they arrived.

The staff, parents and village vicar organised a series of activities to add to the historical experience for the children. The local community was captivated by the plan and offers of help flooded in.

The project received some funding, but teachers say that encouragement and help from members of the community made it particularly successful. The Shropshire Archives, the Ludlow Museum, the Land of Lost Content museum and a historian parent all contributed to making the expedition as historically accurate as possible. The local church, the Women's Institute, the Mothers' Union, the local vintage vehicle club, a journalist, a film-maker, businesses and many more individuals also threw themselves into the event and offered their expertise, creating a vibrant and academic programme.

The visit began with a theatre production in the village hall performed by a professional touring company, followed by a living history tour of the village that involved villagers and local businesses. On the second day, the children participated in educational history sessions at Bewdley Museum, and took a trip on the Severn Valley Railway. In the evening, St Mary's held a street party with live music, a 1940s-themed fashion show, a tea dance and a sing-song led by the St Mary's pupils.

Tips from the scheme

Collaborate with other schools. Building links between the pupils from St Mary's and Oliver Goldsmith made the experience exciting and feasible. The expertise from both schools coupled with the children's desire to bond made the expedition all the more memorable.

Be creative in your planning. There should be a wide range of activities to satisfy all pupils: a mixture of history, geography, music, creative writing, art and sports will provide an enriching experience for all.

Evidence that it works?

Staff say the expedition encouraged children from both schools to look at history as real events that took place not so long ago, as opposed to a blurred past with no relevance to them. The project led to further art and creative writing projects, and collaboration with another primary, Maple Hayes Dyslexia School in Staffordshire.


Approach: Creating a "living history" project


Name: St Mary's Primary School

Location: Bucknell, Shropshire

Type: Voluntary aided, mixed

Pupils: 42

Age range: 5-11

Ofsted overall rating: Good (2010).

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